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Rediff.com  » Sports » Champions League: Barcelona, Atletico held; Higuain rescues draw for Juve

Champions League: Barcelona, Atletico held; Higuain rescues draw for Juve

November 01, 2017 10:39 IST

Barcelona held to goalless draw by battling Olympiakos

Barcelona

IMAGE: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi held. Photograph: FC Barcelona/Twitter

Barcelona must to wait to confirm a place in the Champions League last 16 after dropping points for the first time in Group D in an absorbing 0-0 draw at Olympiakos Piraeus on Tuesday.

 

On his return to his former club, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde watched his in-form side dominate for long spells and create some great chances, but the determined home team held on for their first point as they bid for a Europa League spot.

Olympiakos goalkeeper Silvio Proto was a prominent figure in a frenetic and surprisingly open match at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, coming to the rescue to deny Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez on several occasions.

Barcelona top the section with 10 points, having extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 matches with 13 wins and two draws, ahead of Juventus on seven points after their 1-1 draw at Sporting who have four.

Takis Lemonis' Olympiakos team, who are also struggling in the Greek SuperLeague, finally opened their account as Barca were held to a goalless draw for the first time since April.

Valverde, who won three league titles as Olympiakos coach in two spells at the Piraeus club between 2008 and 2012, was given a rousing welcome by the home fans who held up a giant banner which read “Ernesto thanks for everything”.

“I was very moved by the whole experience of coming back here tonight,” said Valverde. “I love the fans here and they appreciate my work; it was amazing to see such a reception for an opposing coach – it speaks volumes for them really.”

“Olympiakos is a very strong team and with the help of their fans they have achieved a great result and we congratulate them for that. I would love to see them qualify to the next stage but there is a long way to go yet.”

Barca started at breakneck speed with right back Nelson Semedo racing clear and forcing a fine low save from Proto.

Olympiakos, with midfielder Kostas Fortounis in a lone striking role, were pushed back in the early stages but the Greece international looked lively when he broke forward.

Barca came close to scoring in the 20th minute when Messi struck a shot that was parried clumsily for a corner by Proto.

His strike partner Suarez missed Barca’s best chance of the half three minutes later, sending a low shot into the side-netting with the outside of his right boot from a tight angle.

Messi’s first real run at the defence came in the 28th when the Argentine raced through a flurry of bodies into the box before his shot was saved by Proto's outstretched left boot.

Messi then had a shot blocked before seeing his curling free-kick, won by Suarez, beaten away by Proto.

Fortounis should have done much better from Alaixys Romao’s lobbed pass on the counter but volleyed straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegan who gathered it comfortably.

The visitors forged their best chance just after the hour but Messi uncharacteristically scuffed a poor first-time effort wide after a neat one-two with Suarez.

Barca exerted more pressure as the second half wore on but had little to show for their efforts apart from a couple of blocked and wayward shots by a below-par Suarez, who also lobbed an effort on to the top of the bar with 10 minutes left.

Proto made two more stops to thwart Messi, one from a free-kick and another from a powerful low shot, to ensure Olympiakos secured a creditable draw against their illustrious opponents.

Atletico on the brink after dismal home draw with Qarabag

Atletico Madrid

IMAGE: Atletico Madrid need to hope for something remarkable to avoid a group stage exit. Photograph: Atletico Madrid/Twitter

Atletico Madrid's Champions League hopes hang by a thread after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Group C minnows Qarabag on Tuesday despite playing a large part of the second half against 10 men.

The home side had far more chances than the team from Azerbaijan in the first half but fell behind in the 40th minute when Spanish midfielder Michel rose to meet a corner and delivered too powerful a header for Jan Oblak to keep out.

Midfielder Thomas Partey equalised in the 56th minute with a thunderous long-range strike and Atletico were given another boost when Brazilian Pedro Henrique was sent off a minute later.

Yet despite laying siege to the visitors' area, Atletico could not find a winner and, to complete their miserable night, they also had their own defender Stefan Savic sent off for a second booking in the 88th minute.

"We always tried to win the game but sometimes in this beautiful sport things don't go your way and the ball just didn't want to go in," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

"We have to keep on fighting in the same way, the work of the players is spectacular, we have to keep believing in this team, and I do."

Atletico, Champions League runners up in 2014 and 2016 and semi-finalists last season, are third in Group C on three points, five behind leaders AS Roma and four behind Chelsea.

It means Atletico now need to hope for something remarkable to avoid a group stage exit for the first time since returning to Europe's elite competition in 2013.

Even if they beat Roma and Chelsea in their final two games, they will still need either the Italian side or Premier League champions to drop points against Qarabag.

Should they draw with Roma in their next outing, they will need Chelsea to lose to Qarabag to have any chance of moving forward.

Atletico went into the must-win game on the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw with Villarreal at home on Saturday and with only one win in their previous seven games in all competitions.

They made a bright start as Antoine Griezmann hooked a venomous volley from outside the box to force a fine save from Ibrahim Sehic.

The sight of the Bosnian goalkeeper repelling shots from the hosts became a familiar sight for the angst-ridden home fans in the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, which has yet to witness an Atletico win in the Champions League.

After Partey's sensational equaliser, Simeone continued his familiar routine at home games of waving his arms around to encourage the supporters to will on his side, but every time they came forward Sehic got in their way.

He thwarted Kevin Gameiro, Diego Godin and captain Gabi in the second half before the final whistle sounded, signalling a likely end to Atletico's recent thrilling spell in Europe's top competition.

Higuain rescues draw for Juve against lively Sporting

Juventus

IMAGE: Gonzalo Higuain, left, of Juventus celebrates. Photograph: Juventus/Twitter

Gonzalo Higuain scored a typically clinical goal to earn Juventus a 1-1 draw at Sporting after the Serie A side had been rattled by their opponents in a lively Champions League clash on Tuesday.

Sporting, the better side in the first half, took a deserved lead through Brazilian midfielder Bruno Cesar in the 20th minute.

As Juve crept back into the game, Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patricio made a brilliant save to deny Higuain in the 69th minute but was powerless to stop the Argentine forward equalising 10 minutes later.

The win kept Juventus second in Group D with seven points from four games, three ahead of their opponents, and on course for a place in the last 16. Barcelona lead with 10 after their 0-0 draw away to Olympiakos.

"It's disappointing because we had the possibility of sealing our qualification," said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. "We played a really poor first half, we got ourselves into too much confusion."

Sporting, unbeaten in the league, had to field a makeshift defence as Jonathan Silva replaced Fabio Coentrao at left back, Andre Pinto stepped for Jeremy Mathieu at centre back and Stefan Ristovski was brought in at right back for Cristiano Piccini.

But they went ahead when livewire winger Gelson Martins slipped past Giorgio Chiellini, fired in a shot which Gianlugi Buffon parried and Bruno Cesar followed up to slot in the rebound from just inside the area.

Sporting cut off the supply line to Higuain and Mario Mandzukic as they refused to allow Juve playmaker Paulo Dybala get into his stride.

Mandzukic had Juve's first effort on target two minutes into the second half although his header from a corner was comfortably saved by Patricio.

Dangerous on the break, Sporting missed chances to wrap up the game and paid the price.

Juve thought they had equalised in the 69th minute but Patricio did superbly well to recover his ground and make a brilliant reflex stop to keep out Higuain's header.

But there was no let-off when Juan Cuadrado threaded the ball through to Higuain who clipped the ball past Patricio as the Sporting defence claimed offside.

"There were moments in the match when we showed some inexperience," said Sporting coach Jorge Jesus. "The positive side is the great performance we put in against a team which does not need any adjectives."

Wolves go top with win over Norwich

Wolverhampton Wanderers won 2-0 at Norwich City on Tuesday to return to the summit of England's second-tier Championship.

Wolves took the lead with a first-half header from Willy Boly and doubled their advantage with Leo Bonatini's second-half volley to move a point clear of Cardiff City and two ahead of Sheffield United.

United, who had topped the table heading into Tuesday's fixtures, were beaten 1-0 by Queens Park Rangers, who continued their upturn having ended a seven-game winless run with victory against Wolves on Saturday.

QPR's Idrissa Sylla swept in the only goal after four minutes after United keeper Jamal Blackman collided with team mate Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Cardiff moved up to second with a 3-1 win over Ipswich Town thanks to goals from Junior Hoilett and Omar Bogle with Danny Ward adding a third in stoppage time after Bersant Celina had briefly reduced the deficit.

Sunderland, who were relegated from the Premier League last season, sacked manager Simon Grayson minutes after the final whistle of their 3-3 draw at home to Bolton Wanderers that left both sides in the relegation zone.

CSKA comeback stuns Basel, rejuvenates Champions League hopes

CSKA Moscow scored twice in the second half to beat Basel 2-1 on Tuesday as the Russians gave themselves a Champions League lifeline and frustrated their opponents' hopes of booking an early spot in the last 16.

Basel had looked set to wrap up a place in the knockout stage with two games to spare after Luca Zuffi's instinctive lob gave the Swiss side the lead after 32 minutes, but the match was turned on its head following the break.

Alan Dzagoev came off the bench to level in the 65th with a composed chip before CSKA's Swedish midfielder Pontus Wernbloom fired in a vicious drive with 11 minutes remaining to complete a superb comeback.

Second-place Basel are now level on six points with CSKA, with both teams six adrift of Group A leaders Manchester United.

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